Growing up, Tashlich wasn’t just about finding a body of water and saying a short tefilah. Far from it. It was tashlich! It was an event, possibly the biggest one of the year. We would set out on Rosh Hashanah afternoon knowing that our estimated time of returning back home was many hours away. This was not because we were going to be davening any long tefilah. It was because we were going to tashlich. Throngs of people of all ages and stages from all the surrounding neighborhoods would flock to the lake in Flushing Meadow Park in their Yom Tov finest, eagerly anticipating meeting all the people they hadn’t seen since the previous year. It was an aliyah l’regel of sorts. Between the roundtrip walk to and from the park, plus a good one to two hours spent milling about the lake, it was an all-afternoon affair. Staying awake all Rosh Hashanah afternoon was no problem at all.
I haven’t been in New York for Rosh Hashanah for many years, so I don’t know if the custom remains the same to this day. But once I moved to Israel, tashlich was a radically different experience. Firstly, finding a body of water in the area where we lived was in itself no small challenge. There was no major lake, or even a small pond, where we lived at the time. There were no multitudes congregating. It was basically a private affair.
One Rosh Hashanah, shortly after we made aliyah, my family took the 10-minute walk down to the park behind our house to say tashlich. Rumor had it that if one walked down the hill, continued past the trees and playground, crossed through the brush, and peeked under a log, one could find a tiny drip of water. Let’s go for it, we thought. We made the trek, found the water, and said the Tefilla. And then we were done. Just like that. No milling about. No chatting with this one or that one. No scene at all. Short. Sweet. And to the point. We were about to turn around and make our way back up the hill when suddenly a man drove up in his 4x4 to exactly where we were standing. He opened the door, got out of his car, walked right over to us, and nonchalantly asked if he could borrow our machzor so that he, too, could say the tefilah of tashlich. This was not exactly what we had expected. In an instant we handed him a machzor. He quickly placed a cloth on his head and recited the tefilah. He then returned the machzor, offered his sincerest thanks, wished us a Chag Sameach, and drove off before we could even blink an eye. As quickly as he had appeared, he had vanished. Did that really just happen? We were immediately struck by the incongruity of it all. How could someone literally go out of his way to say tashlich one minute, and be mechalel yom tov the next minute? And Rosh Hashanah, no less!! It made no sense. We were stunned. But then slowly the other side of the coin began to dawn upon me. From beneath the outer layers of chillul yom tov, the man’s pintele yid was ever-so-brightly shining through. True, from what we could see on the outside, he did not embody Torah and mitzvos as we view it. But on some deeper level, he understood the auspiciousness of the day and felt a desire to connect to his heritage and to Hashem. In my mind, I imagined the man’s tefilah ascending to the heavens and being greeted by Hashem with open arms. Hashem awaits our teshuvah all year long, but especially during the period of Elul and the yamim nora’im, our efforts in this area yield a much greater return. Hashem, k’vyachol, comes down to the masses during this time and rewards our attempts to connect with Him with a much greater response. Who knows where this man is today as a result of his reaching out to Hashem back then? I wonder. But his behavior then was not as paradoxical as it might seem. None of us are perfect. We do our best to do the right thing and follow the ways of the Torah. But our human condition causes us to slip up time and time again. But Hashem knows that we are only human. After all, He created us that way. Any teshuvah that we do is greatly appreciated and accepted, even if we continue to slip up from time to time and revert to our old ways.
Eight years ago, we moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh during the week that preceded Rosh Hashanah. Our neighbors have a man-made pond in their yard, filled with ducks, birds, and other assorted fowl. When we moved in to our new home, we had no idea that this is exactly where tashlich takes place. Parents, grandparents, and children from all over the Rama travel to this pond to say tashlich. The “scene” is literally at our front doorstep. We don’t even need to leave our home to be part of the action. There is a constant flow of traffic all afternoon as people come, say their tefilah, and leave. As I sit on my mirpeset and watch people coming and going throughout the day, I feel a touch of pleasant nostalgia as it reminds me of the days when tashlich was an all afternoon affair. With a crowd.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.